photo: Ronald Leon Hale IV
Do you remember that giddy childhood bliss you felt when your dad would lay on his back with his legs straight up in the air and you balanced atop them? Well area adults are returning to that feeling on a weekly basis thanks to AcroYoga.
Started in San Francisco by Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jason Nemer, AcroYoga combines yoga, Thai massage and acrobatics for a truly unique mind-body fitness experience. The practice teaches you how to respect your body and others', as well as trust and communicate. "It has everything I feel our society needs," says Jonny Nobleza, who leads the AcroYoga classes at Nature Yoga Sanctuary in Wicker Park. "It explores and develops trust, connection, playfulness, all within a framework and focus on community and interactions with one another." Nobleza is one of only three teachers in the Chicago-area, but AcroYoga has about 125 teachers worldwide, with its largest following in San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.
The Skinny: AcroYoga isn't about jaw-dropping poses (although there are a lot of cool-looking ones); it's much more about building trust, respecting others and appreciating the physical possibilities of the body. Classes incorporate yoga asanas, inversions, partner yoga, acrobatics and Thai massage and they always start with the circle ceremony.
Everyone sits in a circle and begins to breathe and move together as a group. This may be as simple as draping your arms over your neighbor's shoulders and beginning to sway to the right and left, eyes closed and following the natural movement of your breath. Then the circle proceeds to do gentle massage work and other getting-to-know-you exercises.
Once it's on to the partner training, you'll work in groups of two to three; one person is the base, another a flyer and a third is the spotter. While you may be matched up by similar body types, AcroYoga borrows from Thai massage techniques of bone stacking, so as long as the base has a good foundation, there's no need to exert a lot of force and no way for the base to get hurt. One move that you can expect to try in a basics class: the base lays on his back with legs up in the air at 90 degrees; the flyer goes into downward dog over the base, with her hips right at the base's feet. They join hands and the base straightens his arms, lifting the hips and legs of the flyer up into the air. From here, the base moves his hands to the flyer's shoulders, allowing them to go into more advanced moves as shown in the pictures. After every pose, the flyer and spotter give the base a gentle stretch and Thai massage, another way to continue the group aspect of the practice and show respect to all those involved.
photo: Ronald Leon Hale IV
The Get Up: Because you'll be doing all types of movements and stretches, it's best to wear comfortable, form-fitting clothes and be ready to be barefoot the entire practice.
Wear and Tear: The same risk that you'd find in yoga and beginner acrobatics applies for AcroYoga, but paying attention to your form, following instructors' cues as to where your hand, knee and weight distribution should be and trusting your partner should keep you injury-free.
The Commitment: As with all forms of yoga, you'll learn something new every class. It's an ongoing practice that gets better as you learn to open yourself up to trust and begin to learn more about your body. Don't expect to be a master at advanced flying and acrobatic poses after your first few sessions. But you may be surprised by your new appreciation for your body and your deep respect for people who were perfect strangers when class started.
The Cost: Classes at Nature Yoga are $15, however you can purchase class cards for discounted fees on anything from five sessions ($65) to 20 ($200).
Difficulty Level: AcroYoga is definitely not for those who have no experience with yoga at all. You should be comfortable with basic yoga terms and poses and not be afraid of inversions. This isn't a vinyasa flow class where you'll be flowing from pose to pose; it's more challenging in the sense that you'll be holding poses longer. But more than anything, it's important to be open and up for anything in an AcroYoga class.
The verdict: Yoga enthusiasts and even active couples who like to play will get a kick out of AcroYoga. A yoga practice is deeply personal and all about you, so this allows you to finally get a chance to know your fellow yoga enthusiasts, make new friends, develop trust and let your inner-child come out. You'll walk in a bit hesitant and unsure and leave with a deep connection to a group of strangers and a big smile on your face.
Jonny Nobleza runs AcroYoga classes Monday nights at Second Nature (Nature Yoga's smaller sister outpost in Lincoln Park) and Friday nights at Nature. For more info, visit acroyoga.org or email Jonny.